Lieberman Urged to Forgo Farrakhan Meeting
The Jerusalem Post - August 16, 2000 - Janine Zacharia
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As Senator Joseph Lieberman readies to accept the Democratic vice presidential nomination, some Jewish leaders are urging him to reconsider a plan to meet with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who last week questioned Lieberman's loyalty to the US and who is shunned by the Jewish community because of past antisemitic statements.
The Jewish leaders are also asking Lieberman to reconsider remarks in which he defended Reform party presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan against charges of antisemitism. The flap demonstrates that despite the feelings of pride and acclamation that swelled up among American Jews following Al Gore's selection of Lieberman as his running mate, the senator's religion will not make him totally immune to criticism from mainstream Jewish groups.
Lieberman said he would like to meet with Farrakhan after the African-American, Moslem leader, who has referred to Jews as "wicked deceivers of the American people," last week suggested that Lieberman's Judaism would make him more committed to Israel's interests than to America's.
"Mr. Lieberman, as an Orthodox Jew, is also a dual citizen of Israel," Farrakhan asserted at a news conference in Los Angeles.
"The state of Israel is not synonymous with the United States, and the test he would probably have to pass is: Would he be more faithful to the Constitution of the United States than to the ties that any Jewish person would have to the State of Israel?"
Lieberman has asserted repeatedly in interviews since his selection as Gore's running mate that his first loyalty is to America. No formal invitation for a meeting has yet been extended to Farrakhan.
"To meet with him would give him legitimacy that shouldn't be given to him," said the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman.
"Farrakhan has always wanted to have meetings with Jews and Jewish leadership and when you ask him why, he says he wants to discuss the truth of his charges. That's the absurdity. How are you going to discuss the truths that Jews control the media, that Jews control America? In the past some of our lay leaders met with him, and we're sorry," Foxman said.
The executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, acknowledged that Lieberman's new role as a vice presidential candidate affords him "different responsibilities and a different role than he had before, but that does not warrant a meeting with Farrakhan, particularly after his comments and given the history of his relationship with the Jewish community."
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) gave cautious support for the idea of a Lieberman-Farrakhan meeting, but said that such a meeting should be considered carefully.
"I think it's all right to talk, but preconditions have to be laid down very carefully. We don't have to listen to a hateful diatribe because of a particular vote group," Lautenberg said.
Farrakhan's Nation of Islam group claims a membership of roughly 200,000 black Americans, and blacks have in recent decades been a key Democratic constituency.
Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer called a possible meeting between Lieberman and Farrakhan "inappropriate."
Earlier this year, Democrats criticized Bush for suggesting he would favor giving government funds to the Nation of Islam; the Bush camp subsequently clarified the remarks by saying that the candidate thought he was answering a question about mainstream Moslems.
In addition to his remarks about Jews, Farrakhan has been criticized for traveling to countries such as Iran and Libya.
With regard to Buchanan, Lieberman told a Sunday morning talk show that he did not consider as an antisemite the politician and former conservative political commentator, who has referred disdainfully to the American Jewish community as the "Amen corner" and who wrote that Hitler posed no threat to America.
Both Foxman and Hoenlein said they hoped Lieberman would reconsider his view. While Bush first tried to get Buchanan to stay in the Republican Party, the Texas governor has since distanced himself from Buchanan's views.
In his remarks tonight, Lieberman is planning to build on the themes of his speech in Tennessee last Tuesday, in which he drew distinctions between the Democratic and the Republican parties' plans for the future, and state why Gore is the most fit to be president, Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein said.
Last night, members of the Kennedy clan, John F. Kennedy's daughter Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her uncle Senator Ted Kennedy addressed the Democratic delegates, as did former New Jersey senator and presidential hopeful Bill Bradley.
On Monday night, Bill and Hillary Clinton bid farewell. Hillary Clinton, who is running neck-in-neck with Republican congressman Rick Lazio for a New York Senate seat, spoke primarily about her achievements in helping children.
While she did not speak specifically about her Senate bid, Clinton was greeted with a musical rendition of Frank Sinatra's popular tune New York, New York. But Bill Clinton stole the show, speaking for 45 minutes about the achievements of his administration and why he believes electing Gore is crucial to carrying on the prosperity of the last eight years.
Clinton made a dramatic appearance as house lights dimmed and a single camera showed him marching through narrow corridors toward the stage like a prize fighter, as achievements of his administration flashed on television monitors.
In the last major address of his presidency, Clinton answered criticisms levied by the Republican Party.
"To those who say the progress of these eight years was some kind of accident, that we just sort of coasted along, let me be clear: America's success was not a matter of chance, it was a matter of choice," he told a cheering crowd of more than 4,000 delegates.
Clinton gave a detailed list of what he said were his administration's achievements including a record economic expansion, 22 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 30 years, the highest home ownership rate ever and dwindling numbers of teen pregnancies.
Bush, meanwhile, held a 9-point lead over Gore in a tracking poll released yesterday by Voter.com-Battleground. The poll of 1,000 likely voters taken Sunday and Monday has an error margin of 3 percentage points. The Los Angeles Times poll out yesterday also gave Bush a 9-point lead, with the same margin of error.
Delegates will formally give Gore the Democratic presidential nomination tonight. Gore will accept the nomination in the convention's finale Thursday night.